Liverpool’s record-signing Darwin Nunez is being backed by former Reds defender Glen Johnson to become their star man next season, after an inconsistent start to life on Merseyside.
Nunez, 23, was signed from Benfica in a £85m deal in the summer off the back of a 34-goal season in Portugal, that also included six goals in the Champions League as his side reached the quarter-finals.
His 48 goals and 16 assists in 85 games for Benfica made him a very hot property in Europe, as the likes of Manchester United and Real Madrid eyed up a move during the summer. But his goals home and away against Liverpool saw Klopp greenlight a deal after he claimed he ‘fell in love’ with the forward after those two quarter-final games against Benfica in the Champions League.
Despite netting 10 goals in 23 games in all competitions so far this season, those goals have been contrasted with a high volume of big chances missed, as well as receiving a shock red card for a headbutt against Crystal Palace early in the season. However, he has shown to be a combative physical force at his very best, with his power and pace causing a problem for every side he’s faced so far – even if he hasn’t always ended up on the scoresheet or the winning side.
The positive signs are there, which is exactly the point that former Liverpool defender Johnson is keen to get across.
“He’s a fantastic player that wears his heart on his sleeve and in another season’s time, I believe he will be Liverpool’s main man,” he told Betfred.
“He has a lot to offer. He’s quick, aggressive and once he fully adapts to the Premier League then he definitely has the chance to be successful.”
A goal on his debut against Manchester City in the Community Shield was followed with a goal and assist on his Premier League debut which saw fans riding the wave of what looked like another winning signing - the type of which we’ve been so accustomed to in recent years - but it hasn’t gone exactly to plan since then.
Given his huge price tag, any failures – no matter how small – were always likely to be emphasised far more than if it was a £10m striker missing the same chances. Missing 15 of his 19 big chances in the Premier League has been a tough watch at times and the streaky nature of his play has been mocked by rival fans and has seen comparisons with the likes of former Chelsea forward Timo Werner, who exited the Blues after failing to get it right over the course of two seasons at the club. But those are naive and unfair criticisms, especially given how many times he has been the driving force for Klopp this season.
Furthermore, with Liverpool’s current form being unfamiliarly poor this season, his own form has been magnified, which has culminated with pressure being piled somewhat unfairly on the Uruguayan in the first season in England.
His stats reflect an all-action forward, as he ranks between 95th-99th percentiles for touches in the opposition area, non-penalty expected goals + expectected assisted goals, non-penalty expected goals and total shots per 90. All of those measures point towards a forward who is doing the right things continually, and it suggests it’s only a matter of time before he truly explodes.
For the glass half-full lobbyists out there, Nunez has shown plenty of positive signs so far this season, and with over four and half months left in the season, he’s on track to finish on 20-plus goals in all competitions and that will certainly constitute a strong first season return and give him a good foundation to become Liverpool’s main man from next season.